- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

May 3

The Los Angeles Times on pushing Congress to enact sensible gun reform measures:

For more years than it is comfortable to count, the National Rifle Association and its abettors in Washington have forestalled even the most sensible efforts to confront our national scourge of gun violence.

But at the moment, the NRA is on the ropes as an institution. Its problems include a move by the New York state attorney general to dissolve the association over fraud allegations; an internal rebellion by longtime major donors; accusations of self-dealing; a failed coup by dissident members; a rancorous lawsuit with its former public relations agency (amid more allegations of fraud); and a dubious bankruptcy filing in Texas aimed at undercutting the existential threat from the New York attorney general.



All of which has diminished the NRA’s power in Congress. And with the pro-reform Democratic Party narrowly controlling the House and the Senate, and with longtime gun-control supporter Joe Biden in the White House, now would seem to be the time to push through some changes.

The NRA remains a force, so any legislation to rein in guns faces significant headwinds. On a couple of familiar issues, though, gun control advocates might finally be able to gain enough traction to overcome the gun lobby.

One is the closing the loopholes that allow some gun sales and transfers to be made without a background check, an idea supported by the vast majority of Americans, including pro-gun Republicans.

Sales through federally licensed gun shops and dealers already require the seller to run the name of the buyer through federal databases of people prohibited from owning a gun for any number of reasons (including having been convicted of a felony or certain domestic violence offenses, being subject to a protective order, or suffering from mental illness). Yet individual sales at gun shows, intra-family transfers, and some online purchases can be made without a background check, a bazooka-sized hole in efforts to keep guns out of the hands of people who legally can’t have them.

And even a required background check can be skirted. If the government does not complete the check within three days, the licensed dealer can complete the sale anyway. While the vast majority of checks proceed quickly, some encounter incomplete records or other wrinkles that slow the process. It is foolishness for the law to say, well, okay, here’s your gun anyway. That very loophole enabled Dylann Roof, who murdered nine Black people in a Charleston, S.C., church, to buy a gun he was barred from owning.

Gun-rights advocates frame mandatory background checks as placing an undue burden on someone’s ability to exercise a constitutional right, and universal background checks would interfere with a private sale of a legal item between two individuals.

But that’s not the case. Laws bar certain individuals from owning a firearm, and checking the names of buyers against that list to determine eligibility is a reasonable balance of interests (much like a store clerk checking an ID to make certain a customer can legally buy a six-pack of beer), whether the seller is a gun shop or your neighbor.

And the federal government is not building a gun registry, as the gun rights people argue; the records of who wants to buy a weapon are kept by gun dealers, and by law the government can’t computerize the handwritten records if they receive them after a gun dealer goes out of business.

Further, they argue, background checks do not keep criminals from buying firearms. While the checks may not be 100% effective (by definition, criminals break laws), more than 3 million purchases have been blocked out of more than 278 million checks performed since they were first required under the 1994 Brady Act. Closing the loopholes will make a difference.

The House has passed two bills to tighten up background checks: the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, which would extend background checks to gun shows and many other exchanges between private parties, and the Enhanced Background Checks Act, which would give the government 10 days to complete a background check instead of three. Sen. Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has pledged to bring them up in the Senate, and President Biden urged passage of both bills during his address to Congress on Wednesday night.

Unfortunately, the measures still need support from at least 10 Republicans to overcome the inevitable filibuster by gun-rights zealots in the Senate. The nation can only hope that enough of them will find the courage to put public safety first and support these measures.

But to state the obvious, passing sensible gun control measures comes down to politics. People telling pollsters they support such laws is one thing; telling your representatives and Congress to put public safety ahead of the financial interests of the gun lobby is another, more crucial step. Reach out, make your voice heard.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-05-03/congress-guns-nra-background-checks

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April 29

The Orange County Register on the lack of “common sense” in proposed gun laws:

Gun-control supporters often propose what they describe as “common sense” gun laws.

It’s their latest mantra, but a host of new California firearms proposals makes clear that many of these proposals are more nonsensical than common sense. Reducing gun crime is a noble aim, but it’s hard to see how the latest proposals will move in that direction.

Senate Bill 264 by Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine, would ban gun shows on state property – a symbolic measure that will not reduce gun violence. Gun buyers and sellers at, say, public fairgrounds must follow strict state regulations. There’s no connection between gun shows and violence. The shows will move to private venues.

Assembly Bill 1223 from Assembly member Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, would impose an excise tax of as much as 11 percent on the sale of guns and ammunition to fund California Violence Intervention and Prevention (CalVIP) grants. Some community-based programs might help, but others seem unproven at best. If such programs work, nonprofits should fund them.

Assembly Bill 1057 from Assembly member Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach, sounds good on the surface. It expands California’s “red flag” law, which lets law enforcement confiscate weapons from people who they deem dangerous, to apply to “ghost guns.” Those are untraceable home-built firearms that have become popular thanks to the Internet and 3D printing.

Governments aren’t good at predicting criminal behavior and end up violating innocent gun owners’ due-process rights instead. Ghost guns are proliferating mainly as a workaround to the state’s onerous gun-control laws. The government isn’t particularly effective at cracking down on any underground marketplace, from guns to narcotics.

California’s existing Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS), which is designed to let state agents confiscate weapons from people who shouldn’t own them, is a widely maligned bureaucratic mess plagued by an inaccurate database.

It’s hard to fathom how any of the two dozen gun-related measures introduced this session could be described as sensible means of reducing gun violence.

ONLINE: https://www.ocregister.com/2021/04/29/sacramentos-litany-of-mostly-ineffective-nonsensical-gun-bills/

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April 30

The Miami Herald on a Florida law that protects free speech for vigilantes, not protesters:

Of all the bills rammed through by the Florida Legislature this session - sometimes revived late at night and then quickly passed by GOP lawmakers - the most egregious remains House Bill 1.

It’s Gov. Ron DeSantis’ baby, and he has already signed it into law.

The session is about to end, but HB 1 set the stage for this year’s legislative theme: Strip power from local governments, and trample Floridians’ constitutional rights underfoot.

Civil-rights attorneys from a nonprofit called the Lawyers Matter Task Force, and additional plaintiffs, have already filed a lawsuit challenging the governor’s new law, concocted to have a chilling effect on those who take to the streets to protest for rights denied - long an American tradition that Florida’s governor suddenly wants to curtail.

This lawsuit is one of the best things to come out of a mean-spirited legislative session that has resulted in few things to cheer.

HB 1 is an insidious law, anti-democratic and un-American, an edict some autocrat might have cooked up.

AN ATTEMPT TO SILENCE

Aimed at clamping down on social-justice demonstrations, the bill increases penalties for crimes committed during protests, but also allows even peaceful protesters and uninvolved bystanders to be swept up and hauled in by police during protests where violence occurs.

Black Floridians, especially, say it’s an attempt to silence their demands for social justice - most recently invigorated after the death of George Floyd last year.

Before signing the bill into law, DeSantis said, “We wanted to make sure that we were able to protect the people of our great state, people’s businesses and property against any type of mob activity or violent assemblies.”

“Mob activities” and “violent assemblies” are unacceptable. But so is letting police decide what exactly is a “riot” and cast the broadest net possible over people in the vicinity of a protest. HB 1 ignores the fact that strong laws against such violence and property destruction already exist.

Worse, HB 1 creates a new category of violent criminal behavior - then, callously, protects it.

The law gives cover to vigilantes and counter protesters who injure or kill “rioters,” letting them escape liability in a civil lawsuit.

WHAT’S A RIOT?

“House Bill 1 is a horrendous injustice to Florida citizens and infringes on multiple constitutional rights,” said Shannon Ligon, who founded the group that’s challenging the new law in federal court in Orlando. It names as defendants DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Orange County Sheriff John Mina.

Under the new law, peaceful protests could be “characterized as a “riot” due solely to the misconduct of one or two individuals, the plaintiffs wrote.

The law, among other things, creates a new felony crime of “aggravated rioting” that carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison and a new crime of “mob intimidation,” which makes it unlawful “for a person, assembled with two or more other persons and acting with a common intent, to use force or threaten to use imminent force, to compel or induce, or attempt to compel or induce, another person to do or refrain from doing any act or to assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint against his or her will.”

But there is still something called freedom of speech, and Floridians should fervently hope the court reminds the governor of that.

ONLINE: https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/editorials/article250859594.html

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May 4

The Hindu Times on the economic crisis in North Korea opening a lane for diplomacy, denuclearization:

President Joe Biden’s call for “stern deterrence” in response to North Korea’s nuclear programme and Pyongyang’s angry reaction, accusing the Biden administration of being “hostile”, suggest that both countries are headed towards a diplomatic showdown. In his first congressional address last week, Mr. Biden said the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea posed a “serious threat to America’s security and world security” and promised to respond through “diplomacy and stern deterrence”. His administration has also completed a review of the U.S.’s North Korea policy. Mr. Biden is likely to steer between Barack Obama’s “strategic patience” and Donald Trump’s top-level summitry in dealing with the North Korean nuclear challenge. North Korea has remained an unresolved foreign policy puzzle for all post-War American Presidents. In recent times, U.S. Presidents have shown a willingness to diplomatically engage with Pyongyang. The Clinton administration had signed a framework agreement with Pyongyang to halt its nuclear programme. Mr. Obama had initiated talks with North Korea in 2012, which collapsed after Pyongyang launched a satellite. He then adopted a wait-and-watch approach, which came to be called “strategic patience”. Mr. Trump altered his predecessor’s North Korea policy by reaching out to the regime and meeting its leader, Kim Jong-un, thrice, but without a breakthrough.

In theory, the Trump administration and North Korea had agreed to a complete de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, but failed to agree on its formula. In the 2019 Trump-Kim summit at Hanoi, the U.S. proposed removal of sanctions for de-nuclearisation, but North Korea rejected it. Pyongyang had taken a phased approach and sought sanctions removal in return. Ever since, there has been no improvement in ties. After Mr. Biden assumed office, North Korea had conducted short-range missile tests, which the U.S. saw as a provocation. Mr. Biden does not have many good options in dealing with North Korea. The U.S.’s key goal in northeastern Asia is the de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. And the only practical way to achieve this is through diplomacy as a military strike on North Korea, a nuclear power, is out of the question. Though the Trump-Kim summits did not lead to any breakthrough, they have still created a diplomatic momentum for engagement. Despite its threats to expand its nuclear programme, North Korea sticks to the self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests. The North, as acknowledged by Mr. Kim recently, is going through a tough economic crisis and is open to talks. Mr. Biden should seize this opportunity and try to reach common ground with Mr. Kim that addresses both North Korea’s economic worries and the U.S.’s nuclear concerns. That should be the focus of the Biden administration’s new North Korean strategy.

ONLINE: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/the-nuclear-challenge-on-north-koreas-economic-worries/article34474669.ece

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April 26

The Philadelphia Inquirer on Pennsylvania’s opportunity to help workers through the decline of fracking:

The natural gas industry in Pennsylvania is worried about its future - and rightfully so.

During last week’s virtual global climate summit, President Joe Biden announced a goal of cutting greenhouse gas pollution in half by 2030, from a 2005 baseline. Biden has already rejoined the Paris Agreement and set a goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

The U.S. will not reach the 2030 goal without Pennsylvania, which produced nearly 10% of all energy in the nation in 2018 - only second to Texas. Now the state has an opportunity to manage the decline of its polluting energy industry while investing in sustainable, high-paying green union jobs as a replacement.

While burning natural gas emits less CO2 than burning coal or oil, natural gas is abundant in methane - a powerful greenhouse gas that traps more heat than does carbon, though it lingers for less time. The United Nations will soon release a report declaring it urgent to cut methane to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Natural gas production nationwide was responsible for 47% of methane emissions by industry in 2018. And that doesn’t account for storage and distribution. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has identified 8,500 unplugged abandoned oil and gas wells and estimates approximately 200,000 older undocumented wells, many of which may be leaking methane. Multiple studies suggest that methane leaks are undercutting natural gas’s ability to dramatically contribute to emissions reduction as a “transition fuel.”

Yet, despite all this evidence, and commitments from Gov. Tom Wolf to reduce emissions, Pennsylvania continues to build infrastructure for the natural gas industry - whether via the leaking Mariner East pipeline, new fracking permits, and subsidized petrochemical plants.

In Western Pennsylvania counties, where fracking is abundant, there is understandable collective trauma from past decline of industry. Since 1990, Pennsylvania has lost 42,000 jobs in metal manufacturing and 12,000 in coal mining - a 60% job loss in these two industries. Fracking natural gas was supposed to be a godsend. Instead, fracking created dramatically fewer jobs than industry promised, and those jobs created are now at risk.

Fear of that loss should not be taken lightly. But one reason the decline in coal and steel was so painful is that it wasn’t managed. The rug was pulled out from under workers’ feet. Pennsylvania can do things differently this time.

The opportunity is undeniable. The two occupations that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects see growing fastest in coming years are solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians. The White House is proposing investment that will create millions of jobs in the sector. If Pennsylvania transitions fossil fuel subsidies - totaling $3.8 billion in fiscal year 2019 - into green jobs, the transition will be even faster. It is critical these investments go to the communities that lose fossil fuel jobs and those, predominantly Black communities, that have suffered the most harm from pollution.

As the climate crisis worsens, more abrupt and painful measures to decrease emissions fast will become necessary, yet increasingly inadequate. Pennsylvania has a choice: wait for the decline, or manage it, benefiting workers and the environment.

ONLINE: https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/editorials/fracking-biden-climate-greenhouse-gas-methane-pennsylvania-20210426.html

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May 3

Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier on the South Carolina Legislature’s open-carry gun bill starts bad, gets worse:

There’s probably nothing we can say at this point to convince S.C. senators who don’t already realize that it’s a bad idea to let concealed-weapon carriers start carrying their guns on their hips.

After all, they’ve heard all the arguments against it, and still they voted more than 2-to-1 last week to bypass committee and put a House-passed open-carry bill at the top of their agenda for debate as early as Tuesday.

They’ve heard from people who say they would feel threatened if they encountered someone wearing a gun, even if that person does nothing (other than wearing the gun) to threaten them. And from those who argued that having those guns visible puts everybody on edge, increasing the risk that disagreements will escalate into deadly violence.

They’ve heard from police who warn that it’ll be even tougher to distinguish the bad guys from the good guns in active-shooter situations. And more commonly, they’ll be placed in a legally precarious situation when citizens call to complain about someone walking around their neighborhood with a holstered gun - because that’s not a crime, and legally speaking, they have no more justification for questioning someone walking down the street with a gun than someone walking down the street without a gun. (Retired SLED Chief Robert Stewart warned that the bill could get a lot of permit holders killed, because carrying a handgun openly would make them target No. 1 if they were present when a crime was being committed.)

We believe the entire bill should be defeated, because there is no reason to believe that the current law violates anyone’s constitutional rights, no one has presented a good reason it’s needed, and actual conservatives don’t change things without a legitimate reason.

But even if they aren’t willing to do that, we would urge senators at least to pay attention to some other provisions of H.3094 that have gotten little attention.

The bill does allow local governments to prohibit the open carry of weapons at protests, festivals and other organized events that require a permit. But it says they can’t extend the ban for any period before or after the event, which seems dangerous given that violence associated with protests often occurs after the event officially ends.

The bill also says local governments “may not exercise the provisions of this subsection” if “a permit is not applied for and issued prior to an event” - which seems to invite people who want a fully armed protest to hold it without applying for a permit.

H.3094 also strips a provision from state law that makes it clear that state law “does not affect the authority of any county, municipality, or political subdivision to regulate the careless or negligent discharge or public brandishment of firearms, nor does it prevent the regulation of public brandishment of firearms during the times of or a demonstrated potential for insurrection, invasions, riots, or natural disasters.”

State law doesn’t even define brandish, but several local governments, including Charleston, prohibit it. So it’s not clear that police could charge someone who started waving his or her gun around in a menacing way.

Of course, the worst part of the bill is the part that isn’t in it yet: Some senators want to transform a bill that allows open carry for licensed concealed-weapons permit holders into a bill that allows everybody who isn’t legally barred from owning guns to carry those guns openly.

At least people with concealed-carry permits have passed criminal background checks and received some rudimentary training in what state law allows and doesn’t allow them to do with their guns and where they are and are not allowed to carry those guns. And the people who apply for the permits tend to be law-abiding citizens - although SLED reports that it had to deny 2,660 permits in 2020 and that it revoked 1,199 more, which means not every one with a permit is law-abiding or otherwise fit to carry a gun.

Supporters call the idea of letting everybody carry their guns openly “constitutional carry.” That’s the ultimate in trying to rewrite reality through language, because as Chief Stewart testified last week, if the U.S. Constitution gave people the right to carry their guns in public, we wouldn’t be having this debate.

Except for a small portion of the population on the extremes, no one has ever believed the Constitution allows that; the U.S. Supreme Court has never even hinted that it does. Just the opposite, in fact. (The case the high court agreed to hear last month challenges a New York law that is far more restrictive than South Carolina’s much more conservative law that was in place prior to our current concealed-carry law.)

The only reason to even consider such a radical law would be if we were backed into a corner and forced by the court to pass it, which hasn’t happened. For that matter, no one has presented another reason that would justify allowing even permit holders to carry their guns openly.

ONLINE: https://www.postandcourier.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-sc-open-carry-gun-bill-starts-bad-gets-worse-some-want-to-make-it/article_2444340e-ac2a-11eb-909a-237b315f3bf1.html

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